Going on strike should be regarded as “an individual human right” and not be subject to a trade union vote, Wansbeck MP and former president of the mineworkers’ union Ian Lavery has said.
The Northumberland MP, who considered standing for the Labour Party leadership, predicts mass “civil disobedience” in the UK if the Government presses ahead with radical changes to trade union law.
The Conservatives want to bring in a 50% threshold that would see half of a union’s membership having to vote for a strike to be legitimate.
But former NUM chief Mr Lavery said pushing it through the legislation was a risk, adding: “This is a pure and utter attack on the trade union movement and an attack on workers.
“If the legislation proceeds through Parliament then I can see the trade unions ignoring it.”
He added: “I can see industrial action on a huge scale.”
Asked if he foresaw an era of wildcat strikes, he said: “I think it could be more serious than that. I think we could see civil disobedience.
More than half of North East families will be affected by planned tax credit cuts, making us one of the hardest hit region’s in the country, it has been claimed.
The Government is set to carry out £12bn worth of benefits cuts which it will detail at its next Budget. Tax credits is predicted to be one of the areas where the axe will fall heaviest.
It is reportedly being considered that they will be cut back to the 2003 level, which the Institute for Fiscal Studies has calculated would reduce entitlements for about 3.7m low-income families with children by an average of £1,400 a year, reducing spending by about £5bn.
Labour says that 148,000 North East families – or 56% of the total – benefit from tax credits.
House of Commons figures also show that 70% per cent of those claiming them in the region are in work.
Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck said:
“David Cameron and George Osborne must come clean about their proposals to cut tax credits. Their plans clearly put over half of the families with children in the region in the firing line.
“Many families have suffered greatly under the first five years of the Tories, with their incomes falling and bills rising, making life a real struggle already.
“Time after time, during the election campaign and in the first month of this government, they have ducked and weaved to avoid revealing the true nature of their plans. It’s not fair and it’s causing great distress for many. It’s time for the Prime Minister to spell out just what he has in store for families across the region and let the public decide whether his cuts are fair.”
According to campaign groups and charities, the welfare cuts will see the already high level of child poverty in the North East spread even to some affluent areas.
Campaigners hoping to turn Northumberland in a Green Party powerbase defied dreary weather to officially launch their election battle.
Natalie Bennett’s party will fight all four Northumberland constituencies at the General Election next month, placing energy, anti-austerity, public services and transport at the heart of their strategy.
Taking shelter under bright green umbrellas, the candidates chose Druridge Bay Visitor Centre, near Amble, for the event, close to the site of a planned opencast mine, which the Greens are petitioning against amid fears it will damage the environment.
The party’s candidate for Hexham and chairman of the Northumberland Greens Lee Williscroft-Ferris, said:
“Today has been a huge success.
“Despite the poor weather, many Green Party members from across the four Northumberland constituencies have come to Druridge Bay to show their support as their candidates officially launch their general election campaigns.
“Although we are each fighting hard in our own areas, we share similar concerns. These include an urgent need to improve public transport and protect our public services, as well as a mutual objective of fighting against the unsafe exploitation of our natural resources through fracking, open cast mining and underground coal gasification.
“We offer a people and planet-focussed alternative to ‘business as usual’ politics and to the narrative of austerity – the number of people here today proves that there is a genuine appetite for a positive, Green vision of hope here in Northumberland.”
It comes as the Greens celebrate being the third-largest party, in terms of membership, in England as the party enjoys unprecedented exposure in the TV leaders’ debates.
While the Greens are not anticipating victory in Northumberland a surge of support for them could make a decisive difference in the key marginal of Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Following the retirement of long-serving Lib Dem MP Sir Alan Beith, Conservative Anne-Marie Trevelyan is neck-and-neck with Lib Dem Julie Porksen, but the Greens’ candidate Rachael Roberts is holding her own.
Dawn Furness is taking on Labour’s Ronnie Campbell – who polled a 6,668 majority in 2010 – in the Blyth Valley constituency while Chris Hedley also faces a tough opponent in Wansbeck where Ian Lavery will stand for Ed Miliband’s party.
The Save Druridge campaign has a petition, which can be found online: http://www.savedruridge.co.uk
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 13 Apr 2015
North-East Tories were left red-faced after accusing one of their own MPs of failing to “fight for” his constituents in the Commons.
The leader of North Tyneside Conservatives attacked MPs who “short-change” voters by making only a small number of speeches in the chamber.
Councillor Judith Wallace produced a table claiming that such MPs were costing taxpayers many thousands of pounds for each speech they made.
And she said: “Politicians think that they can just turn up at election time, push a few leaflets through the door and think ‘job done’. Well it just isn’t good enough.”
However, the table – based on the number of speeches made during the 2014 calendar year – listed only two North-East MPs as “well below average”.
And one of those two was fellow Tory James Wharton, who faces a crucial knife-edge battle to cling onto the Stockton South seat, where he has a majority of just 332.
Mr Wharton spoke just 12 times last year, the Tories said – at an alleged cost of £5,589.17 per contribution – two more occasions than Tynemouth Labour MP Alan Campbell (£6,707).
Cllr Wallace added:
“Voters expect their MPs to be working hard for their salary.
“An MP’s job is to stand up in the House of Commons and make the views of your electors known to the executive – to challenge and to fight for your constituents.”
Tom Blenkinsop, Labour MP for Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland – second in the table (76 speeches) – pointed out that Mr Campbell was Labour’s deputy chief whip, so spoke very little by convention.
And he said:
“I’d like to congratulate the Tory party for highlighting how little James Wharton has done in his five years – and also for highlighting how much I have done.”
Mr Wharton did not return messages left by journalists, while a spokesman for Cllr Wallace insisted: “Judith’s comments are specifically about her sitting MP Alan Campbell, for Tynemouth.”
The list put Hexham Conservative MP Guy Opperman top (116 speeches), with Labour’s Ian Lavery (Wansbeck – 66) and Grahame Morris (Easington – 64) third and fourth.
UKIP’s deputy leader has confirmed the party is targeting Northumberland’s Blyth Valley seat.
Nigel Farage’s second-in-command, Paul Nuttall MEP, was in the coastal constituency for the second time in a matter of weeks and said the seat – which is widely regarded as safe Labour territory – is a target for Ukip, while neighbouring Wansbeck was also “of great interest”.
Sitting Blyth MP Ronnie Campbell’s majority has dropped to 6,668 in 2010 from 17,736 in 2001.
The 71-year-old – who is for having a referendum on membership of the European Union – said Ukip was running an “ageist” campaign.
He added this election will be the last time he stands but he was nonetheless confident of a Labour victory.
It comes three months after Ukip opened its North East headquarters off Blyth high street, just a stone’s throw away from Mr Campbell’s office.
“Demographically, it is perfect for Ukip if you look at the people who came over to us at the recent election,” said Paul Nuttall, who is an MEP in the North West.
“We are investing in the constituency and building for the future.
“We are going to put in a very good performance – but it isn’t just about the short-term political gain, this is a long-term target seat.
“With Hartlepool, Blyth sticks out and we did very well in the South Shields by-election too, remember.”
Ukip has remained tight-lipped about its target seats but the MEP could not deny Blyth is now ranked among them.
He could not cite any polling data which says Blyth voters are shunning Labour but confirmed the party will be throwing resources at the campaign there.
“The reports that we hear are very positive, as are the ones we get from Wansbeck,” said Mr Nuttall.
“I’m not going to deny that we are parking our tanks on Labour’s lawn in Blyth. Barry Elliott is a great candidate and he has a good team around him.”
“Ukip has nothing to offer Blyth. We do not have a problem with immigration at all.
“Ukip has talked about being a target for a while. In the North East for them, it is Hartlepool, Middlesbrough, South Shields and us.
“I don’t know why they are targeting me. We are canvassing every day, I was out knocking on doors this morning. I hear that they tell people that I’m too old and that I should retire.
“I have a few years left in me yet. People don’t like ageism. Ageism is just as bad as racism.
“If they can manage to turn over my 6,668 majority then I haven’t done my job for the people of Blyth.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 21 Mar 2015
UKIP has been accused of attempting to “sabotage” a charity event intended to get young people interested in politics.
Northumberland youth charity Leading Link blamed the UK Independence Party for its decision to reschedule a Question Time-style event.
And the charity said police were even drafted in to cover a replacement event on Thursday night, in case of disruption.
The question-and-answer event has been held by the Bedlington-based charity for the last four years, and sees a debate between local schoolchildren, members of the public and guests.
It was due held at County Hall in Morpeth on Thursday, and young people had invited representatives from the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour parties to attend.
UKIP were not invited, which the party claimed was “undemocratic”.
Leading Link said it was contacted by a string of regional and national UKIP representative demanding to know why the party had not been invited, with one claiming the charity was contravening various acts.
Charity bosses say they explained that attendees had been selected by the young people and made it clear the event was not linked to May’s general election.
But then, the charity says, several tickets were acquired online in the names of local UKIP figures.
And the organisers took the decision to postpone the event until after the general election.
In place of the cancelled event, a replacement just for the young people was organised with just the current Wansbeck MP, Labour’s Ian Lavery.
And the charity said it had arranged for Northumbria Police to attend, in case of any disturbance.
Charity assistant manager Jonny Hall said:
“The reason why we were holding it was to give these young people a real experience of debating and making a positive change.
“Because we now feel that the spirit would be completely lost and it became a politically-motivated campaign, we have since cancelled it and moved to this closed session instead.
“The whole thing has been completely blown out of proportion. The fact a school debate is having to be cancelled speaks volumes.”
Mr Lavery hit out at UKIP for “jeopardising” the chances of young people getting engaged in politics.
He added: “Lyn (Horton, charity manager) said she has never known anything like this. It is sad we have not had the original event.”
The media officer for UKIP’s Wansbeck branch, said it was “blatantly untrue” to claim the event was not political given the attendance of the other parties.
“Why invite three politicians? And how do you educate the young people if you do not invite all political views?” he said. “It is totally undemocratic.”
“I think they have cancelled because they knew we would get it advertised to the public in Wansbeck. We had kicked up a bit of a fuss.”
Asked if anyone from UKIP would be attending the event, he added: “Nobody knows where it is.”
Northumbria Police confirmed that officers were attending. A spokesperson said:
“Members of the Neighbourhood Policing Teams regularly attend community events to continue to build on the strong links already in place.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 05 Mar 2015
> Another victory for outsourcing…
Teachers at a ‘shambolic’ jail have been left fearing for their safety after inmates are turning up ‘drunk’ and ‘on drugs’ it has been claimed.
A member of staff, who works for Manchester College and teaches at HMP Northumberland, said staff were faced with inmates coming into lessons visibly drunk or high on drugs.
Often, 12 classrooms were monitored by a single prison guard, leaving members of the teaching staff afraid for their safety – despite having access to panic buttons.
An HMIP report on the jail revealed one in three inmates said it was easy, or very easy, to access drugs behind bars at the Sodexo run jail.
A letter seen by the NEC said civilian staff were regularly in contact with intoxicated ‘unpredictable’ prisoners.
“The teachers inside the jail are civilians working for an outside college and we rely on the officers presence to ensure our safety.
“Now the officers have been drastically reduced we are having to work with only one, or no officers present in the various education areas on the site, sometimes with upwards of 12 classes in one area and our safety is severely at risk.
“Teachers have repeatedly voiced concerns about not feeling safe because of the lack of officers but our management do not act on our concerns.
“We are having to deal with inmates turning up to class drunk and on drugs and their behaviour is unpredictable.”
The anonymous letter said some inmates had been found with ‘blades’ in class.
Staff and campaigners have voiced serious concerns about the dramatic fall in staffing levels at the jail, from 441 in 2010 to 270 in 2013.
> Well, what do they expect ? Shareholders demand higher profits, and paying fewer wages is an one way to do that. Profit above all else.
In the past year 12 members of Manchester College have left the jail which the staff member has put down to safety concerns.
Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck where the jail is based, has raised his concerns with justice secretary Chris Grayling in the House of Commons as well as calling for a review of Sodexo’s contract to run the jail but in his latest response Mr Grayling said he looks forward to seeing the prison improve.
Mr Lavery said:
“My office is now receiving lots of anonymous allegations about HMP Northumberland, all of which express serious views on the safety of everyone on the prison estate be it employees or prisoners.
“The latest was from a concerned prisoner describing the place as a ‘nuclear bomb ready to explode’.
“I will continue to raise these issues and will not back off until the prison is seen to be a safe place to be for everyone.
“I don’t want to be any way responsible for ignoring the desperate pleas for help in indeed a tragedy were to occur.”
A spokesman for Sodexo Justice Services said:
“The safety and security of prisoners, staff and visitors at HMP Northumberland is our highest priority.
“We have regular contact with Manchester College which runs the education courses at the prison. College staff can raise any issues through the appropriate channels which they are aware of and we urge them to do so if they have any concerns.”
A Statement released by Manchester College said:
“We take our duty of care to staff seriously, and work closely with Sodexo to maintain a safe working environment at the prison.
“We provide procedures for teachers to raise their concerns, and when they do we investigate thoroughly in conjunction with prison management.”
Source – Newcastle Evening Chronicle, 17 Feb 2015
The vast majority of Labour supporters back a set of left-wing policies proposed by three North MPs, a poll shows.
Ian Lavery, Ian Mearns and Grahame Morris, MPs for Wansbeck, Gateshead and Easington, signed a letter calling for a number of changes to their party’s policies, and a poll by Labour List shows 83% of supporters back them.
The statement called for the re-nationalisation of the railways, ahead of the East Coast Main Line returning to private hands, and an end to austerity measures.
It comes as Labour figures make the finishing touches to the election manifesto, eyeing both a surge by the Greens and the threat of Ukip.
The poll shows that Labour’s grassroots are for the party lurching to the left. Ed Miliband is unlikely to sanction such a move, however, in the wake of recent criticism from business leaders, including that of Boots boss Stefano Pessina, who said the party winning power would be a “catastrophe” for the country.
> So he should do it just to piss Pessina off ! Him and his ilk aren’t likely to be Labour supporters anyway, so where’s the problem ? Are you really for the people Ed, or for big business interests ?
No, don’t bother answering that. I think we already know the answer.
Ian Lavery, MP for Wansbeck, said the MPs’ proposal is “hardly revolutionary” and called for the party to be “a little bit bolder”.
“Currently the party policy makers are drawing up the long-awaited manifestos.
“It’s a critical period when politicians should ensure the voice of their constituents should be heard. Rail Nationalisation, Trade Union Rights and collective bargaining in the workplace and a change in focus on austerity are issues the general public are hankering for, and why not.
“These simple policies are hardly revolutionary and would impact greatly on those who have faced the brunt of the relentless attacks of the coalition Government.
“Report after report show it’s the less well off who are shouldering biggest burden in today’s society we must endeavour to change this unacceptable situation.
“Politics is about decisions it’s about choice, despite the excellent policies on offer from the Labour Party we need to move a little further and influence the decision makers these issues are exceptionally appealing to our natural voters.
“Being that little bit bolder under the excellent leadership of Ed Miliband would undoubtedly pay dividends for the party, and the constituents we represent.”
> Ed Milliband an excellent leader ? Sections of the media, of course, try to portray him as something of a weirdo. Speaking as someone who has spent much of his life in the company of weirdos and who, truth to tell, is probably a weirdo too, my complaint is that Ed is not weird enough !
He just comes over as another identikit career politician, to be honest. He could be leading the Conservatives and not look out of place.
Most damning of all, he comes across as Blair Junior, which is a bit like being Satan Junior to many of those people who used to vote Labour before it became New.
Ian Mearns, MP for Gateshead, added:
“Most people, including the former head of the Bank of England, know that it wasn’t the last Labour Government that crashed the economy, it was an international financial and banking crisis – yet it seems that the people who crashed the economy, the bankers, are the individuals who are personally profiting from the situation while urging cuts, pain and austerity for the vast majority of the population.
“Austerity and the pain that goes with it, is not necessary – it is a set of political and economic policy choices. There are alternatives and we should explore those alternatives for the benefit of the many rather than the few.”
All of the main parties have yet to publish their manifestos.
Source – Newcastle Journal, 04 Feb 2015
Four North-East Labour MPs have urged Ed Miliband to swing to the Left and rip up his “tragic” commitment to further deep spending cuts.
Grahame Morris (Easington), Ian Mearns (Gateshead), Dave Anderson (Blaydon) and Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) are among 16 rebels issuing the challenge to their leader.
Their alternative election manifesto demands:
* A £30bn investment package – an “alternative way out of endless austerity” – funded either by higher borrowing, the state-owned banks, or a levy on the super-rich.
The MPs call on Mr Miliband to exploit 0.5 per cent interest rates, arguing it would cost just £150m a year to finance the package – which they say would create more than a million jobs, within three years.
Instead, they say: “All three main parties, tragically, seem to agree that deep spending cuts must continue to be made until the structural budget deficit is wiped out in 2019-20.”
* Rail nationalisation, by taking train operating franchises back into public ownership when they expire.
The MPs reject Labour’s plan to allow not-for-profit firms to bid for franchises, condemning it as timid and “wholly unnecessary”.
They claim privatisation costs £1.2bn a year, adding: “Over 80 per cent of the public want the railways re-nationalised, which must include a significant proportion of Tories.”
* Stronger trade union and employment rights, with a return to collective bargaining “as a check against excessive corporate power”.
The alternative manifesto blames the disappearance of union-negotiated agreements for a sharp fall in the share of national income going to salaries and wages – from 65 per cent in 1980, to 53 per cent in 2012.
And it says: “We should therefore actively promote sectoral collective bargaining and strengthen the rights of trade unions to recognition, and of their members to representation.”
The move laid bare how Mr Miliband will struggle to carry his party to make the deep spending cuts planned, even if he wins a small majority in May.
The left-wing group of MPs are keen to take advantage of the rise of the anti-austerity Green Party and of the SNP to push Labour in a more radical direction.
Meanwhile, Len McCluskey, the Unite general secretary, has made repeated threats to establish a new workers’ party if Labour loses after offering a “pale shade of austerity”.
Last year, Mr McCluskey urged the likes of Mr Morris, Mr Mearns and Mr Lavery to “put the brakes” on Ed Miliband if he tries to take Labour to the right
> Even further to the right, I think he means…
It followed the trio’s criticism of Labour support for an overall welfare cap and vote against compulsory unpaid work experience.
Source – Northern Echo, 26 Jan 2015
Thousands of people across the North were already waiting to downsize before the bedroom tax came into force.
Almost 40,000 households across the North of England were on the waiting list for one-bedroom social homes just as the so-called Bedroom Tax came into force – half the total number of households on the list.
It compares with just 22% of households on the waiting list who were hoping for a social home with more than four bedrooms.
The controversial tax, which has reduced housing benefit available to families deemed to have extra bedrooms, was brought in by the coalition in April 2013.
Opponents warned at the time that people had ‘spare’ bedrooms only because of a lack of available smaller properties following years of councils selling off their social housing stock.
Now, figures reveal a chronic shortage of smaller homes in the North of England leaving thousands of households unable to move out of larger homes.
Meanwhile, they continue to be hit with cuts to their housing benefits despite major opposition to the policy.
Labour MPs across the North have reacted with fury at the figures, which they say highlight their concerns that thousands have been unfairly hit with the “pernicious” and “ideological” bedroom tax thanks to government failure to build enough homes.
Among them, Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery slammed the bedroom tax which he claimed was making the most vulnerable pay for the shortage of housing across the region.
“It’s a complete and utter bottleneck where families can not move because the homes are not available. They are then subject to this pernicious tax while they are struggling to make ends meet at this moment in time anyway.
“The government knew the consequences of this. They did understand and they still pushed ahead with this. The election can not come quick enough for these people.”
And Blaydon MP Dave Anderson said the figures dispel a myth about people who are being hit by the bedroom tax.
He said: “This blows the myth out of the water and Labour will be rid of it. It was a pretence and a myth right down the lines about people having too many bedrooms.
“There simply aren’t enough one-bedroom properties for people to move into. It’s nonsense. These are people, human beings in houses they have been living in 40 years. We’re talking about them as if they’re subhumans. It’s a disgrace.”
And Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, who was housing and planning minister from 2007 to 2009, said that housing supply had failed to keep up with a changing society that was seeing an aging population with more people moving to one-bedroom properties as partners passed away and children left home.
But he denied that Labour had been part of the problem or that they too had failed to ensure enough homes were built.
He said: “I would strongly disagree with that. We knew in full terms about the changing society. That’s why we needed to build more homes because we understand people are living longer and more people are living in one-person households.
“This government will have been aware of that too, and yet they still impose this grossly unfair tax. They know they don’t have the properties, they knew all along the difficulties this would” cause.”
And he added: “Where are the priorities with this government? It is not with people in the North who are suffering with housing problems. It’s about indifference – they don’t care about communities in Hartlepool.”
But a government spokesperson said the government was committed to building new homes across England and claimed ending the spare room subsidy had been a “necessary” move.
She added: “Nearly 217,000 affordable homes have been delivered in England since April 2010. Our affordable homes programme is on track to deliver 170,000 new affordable homes between 2011 and 2015, with £19.5 billion of public and private funding.
“We have also given the North East of England £13.8m since 2013 to support vulnerable people affected by welfare reforms and there has been a 12% fall in the number of people in the North East affected by the policy, as tenants take action.
“Ending the spare room subsidy was absolutely necessary to get the soaring housing benefit bill under control, return fairness to the system and make better use of social housing stock.
“Every day the policy saves taxpayers over £1m.”
The North MPs were joined in their criticism by Helen Goodman, MP for Bishop Auckland, and Sharon Hodgson, MP for Washington and Sunderland. All five reiterated Labour’s pledge to abolish the bedroom tax if they win this year’s election.
The party became one step closer to delivering the promise in September 2014, when Labour and the Liberal Democrats came together to voted in favour of a bill brought in by Liberal Democrat MP Andrew George.
If passed, it will mean the bedroom tax will not apply unless a tenant has been offered a different property and has refused to move.
> Hmmm…call me a cynic, but might that not just be circumvented by offering absolute shitholes that no-one wants to live in, then penalizing people for not wanting to live in them.
But prime minister David Cameron has shown no sign of revoking the policy, while a government spokesperson said it was saving the taxpayer £1m every day.